The M Interview: Jesse Eisenberg plays against type as villain Lex Luthor
Despite criticism, US actor Jesse Eisenberg bravely plays against type as iconic villain Lex Luthor in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice
When fans heard that Jesse Eisenberg would be cast as one of the most notorious comic book villains of all time, mixed reactions flooded the Internet.
To be honest, it was indeed hard to see the guy who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010) portray Superman's (Henry Cavill) nemesis Lex Luthor, who also happens to want Batman (Ben Affleck) dead.
The 32-year-old US actor and playwright has huge shoes to fill, with previous iterations of the character taken on by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey.
For Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which is showing here, screenwriter Chris Terrio and director Zack Snyder decided to make Luthor a modern, millennial villain - and Eisenberg, with the trademark quick wit, sarcastic tone and geeky tics that he's known for in his previous flicks, lives up to it.
Indeed, he admits that Luthor is his favourite role so far in his 14-year career.
M caught up with Eisenberg at the Warner Bros' studios in Burbank, California, to talk about how he's dealing with critics and what he relished about playing the bad guy for the first time.
How did you deal with the initial fan disappointment on social media and in the news?
It's certainly strange and unnerving when you're criticised for a part you haven't yet been able to screw up. But I think I would have also been surprised had I read that I was playing Lex Luthor without having had access to this wonderful script and character created by Chris Terrio, which was suitable for me.
When you look at the canon and mythology and history of Superman, I might not be the first person to come to mind. But if you read the script, you'd understand how the character is contextualised in this kind of modern era in the way he was written. I knew I could do it well and hoped that people, after they've seen the movie, would think I was more appropriate than they'd originally feared.
So how did you make Luthor your own?
I think I kind of know people like this. Not murderers, but people who are kind of charming and seemingly personable, but ultimately manipulative, Machiavellian and narcissistic.
And then I thought about the jealousy I have in the same way he's jealous of Superman. I thought about feelings I've had about feeling inadequate or feeling like my sense of morality is compromised.
You've said in past interviews that you weren't the first choice to play Luthor, and that Snyder had another part for you in mind.
I don't even know what it is... When I met Zack he said, 'Oh, we're thinking of you for this part' and he just described this big abstracted scene and I said, 'Oh, that sounds interesting, but I don't think I can do it well'. And that was it - I flew back to New York.
And then a month later, they asked me to be the villain, so perhaps me being rude to him allowed him to think of me in this other way.
So growing up, were you actually a comic book fan?
I read comic books only after they asked me to play this part and I wanted to understand what the history was. My dad and cousin were Superman fans, but I never read them really.
How enjoyable was it to indulge in your dark side for once?
How do you know it's 'for once'? (Laughs). Yes, I would say it's cathartic to be able to have decades of repression and politeness building up, and then I get to do a movie like this and get to live out some childhood fantasy of yelling at the bigger kids, who would have been the popular guys in high school.
What was your favourite part of the movie?
The final scene for my character where he undergoes this physical transformation and becomes the Lex Luthor that we all know, that brooding, bald, psychotic guy. I really liked it because I've always had long hair and was really looking forward to not having any (in the sequels).
Would you rather have Batman or Superman on your team in a fight?
Well, Lex hates Superman, but Jesse would want someone like Superman because he can probably pick me up, fly me to a safe place and then go back and take care of the fight.
What was it like working with Cavill and Affleck?
It was great because they're good actors, they're nice people, they both have a sense of humour so they allowed me to kind of tease them, annoy them, prod them and it would have been illegal for them to punch me because we were all on a movie set.
Did they inspire you to hit the gym given that they were so fit for their roles?
No, I find their bodies discouraging because I feel there is no amount of physical activity that would get me into the same world as them. I thought I could excel at reading, so I went back to the trailer and read.